PASTEL and the History of the Pastel Society
(Taken from an article by Robin Capon)
Pastel has many attractive qualities for artists, especially the fact that it combines so readily the immediacy of drawing with a rich and painterly colouring potential. Not surprisingly, since its introduction in the 16th century, it has been used by many of the world’s greatest artists, including Chardin, Quentin de Latour, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Mary Cassat. It was a particularly popular medium in France, and this eventually led to the founding of the Société des Pastellistes in 1870. In England, the first exhibition devoted entirely to pastel was held in 1888, and not long after this the first British pastel society was formed – the Society of British Pastellists. However, mainly due to extremely harsh criticism in the press, this society was short-lived.
A decade later, in the autumn of 1898, in the studio of Marion Gemmell, at Lownes Square in London, a group of artists met to discuss the formation of a new society for pastellists, and this became known as the Pastel Society. George Frederick Watts was elected President, with the founding members including such accomplished painters as George Clausen, Hercules Brabazon Brabazon, William Orchardson and William Holman Hunt.
The first exhibition was organized for February 1899 at the galleries of the Royal Institute of Water Colour Painters in Piccadilly. Soon, the annual exhibition began to attract other prominent artists of the time, such as Whistler and Sickert. Interest and confidence in pastel had once again been restored and the medium began to enjoy the status it had known a century earlier.
By 1915 the membership had increased to 87. In 1921 Samuel Melton Fisher was elected president, a post he held for the next 18 years. He worked tirelessly to improve the standing of the society during a difficult period in its development. From 1926 to 1988 the society held a joint annual exhibition with the Pencil Society - a decision which at first proved very unpopular with many leading critics. The two societies amalgamated in 1988.
Unlike many other societies the Pastel Society continued to stage exhibitions during the Second World War, showing at the Guildhall Gallery and a number of provincial venues after the RI Galleries had been damaged by bombing. Later, exhibitions returned to the RI Galleries, but when the lease expired in 1970 the society joined the Federation of British Artists at the Mall Galleries, which has since remained the venue for the annual exhibition.
The present standing and popularity of pastel owes much to the exciting and varied work of the members of the Pastel Society and, of course, to the direction and enthusiasm of its different presidents over the years. The current president is Cheryl Culver RBA. As well as the annual exhibition, which remains the highlight of the year’s events, the society organises tutorial workshops, demonstrations and lectures in different parts of the country to promote the medium. It continues to play an important and influential role in the contemporary art scene.
'PASTEL' a short article by Leigh Parry Past President.
PASTEL is dry, durable and as permanent as the paper, board or other support to which it is applied so long as the surface of the painting is not rubbed or allowed to get damp. If not protected under glass in a frame, pastels may be stored quite safely between sheets of folded paper secured so that the work does not slide about. Their durability is exemplified by the fact that the earliest exponents of this art lived about 30,000 BC and the work of these cave dwellers has lasted until today. They had white chalk, various earth colours, e.g. red and yellow, black from charring in the fire and the cave wall to work on. Present day pastels, highly refined and rigorously tested are claimed to have an almost limitless shelf life. These soft pastels may be applied in light strokes or heavily and then rubbed into coloured paper or white paper tinted with a watercolour wash. They marry with charcoal, coloured conte crayons and even ink for preliminary drawings, but not over graphite pencil lines.
This medium gives unlimited scope to all varieties of thinking and methods of execution in present day art. Many are the examples and many the styles possible with this versatile medium, as may be seen by such masters of the past from the precise portrait drawings of Holbein, through the silky impastos of Manet to the vigorous and apparent abandon of stokes and rubbings of Degas - but with what breath-taking precision is the abandon! That the freshness of the medium lasts may be seen also for example in the work of Maurice de la Tour 1704 - 1788 e.g. the glowing portrait of Mr Henry Dawkins in the National Gallery, apparently as fresh as the day it was painted.
The Pastel Society in its present form was instituted in 1898. There were seventy-seven members, among them such well-known names as H. B. Brabazon, George Clausen RA, W. Q. Orchardson RA, Solomon J. Solomon and the founder G. F. Watts RA in the list of original members. The Society joined the Federation of British Artists at the Mall Galleries in 1970.